I am sometimes asked by prospective clients “Why do we need lawyers when we basically agree on everything already?” It is a fair, logical and reasonable question.
One analogy that I use (with some poetic license) to explain this is that divorce is akin to a sea voyage. You have to get from where you are, which is knowing that you are separating, to where you want to be (want is a relative term here), which is having the legal and other issues of your divorce resolved so everyone can begin healing and building new futures. And you have to do that while protecting the precious cargo of your children, your life savings, and your mental health.
Like a voyage, the divorce process often feels long, difficult, dangerous, and harrowing. It frequently feels like you are subject to forces outside your control and you wonder how and whether the experience will ever end.
You know your ship and cargo, but you don’t know the waters. You know yourself, your spouse, your children, your finances, your goals, and your worries. But, you don’t know divorce law, you’re not a trained expert at negotiation, and you’ve never sailed into this particular port.
The real value of a divorce attorney is that they know what you don’t know. They know the waters, currents, shoals, and the shifting sandbars of the law and tax code. They are your harbor pilot. They get you the last but hardest bit of the way to your resolution.
If you are lucky, then you and your spouse can safely sail the ship a good bit of the way yourselves, agreeing to the basic terms of how you will co-parent your children, provide for their financial support, divide your property and debts, and meet the financial needs of two households.
But even in that case, you will need good harbor pilots to get the ship safely to the dock and avoid the unknown, unforeseen, and hidden dangers that lurk beneath the surface of this unfamiliar harbor. There are many hidden details to be sorted out in any divorce, traps that can wreck your agreements, and channels that you may not have seen that may better suit your case.
In truth, in most cases, divorce attorneys are needed for the entire voyage. But even in cases where you can handle most of the journey yourself, you will need a good harbor pilot to get you safely to the dock. Most lawyers who have practiced long enough have seen a case break apart on a rock that the parties never saw coming. A good lawyer can help you avoid that rock and safely reach the end of your divorce journey.